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story.lead_photo.caption Fulton Public Schools students will return Aug. 26.

The News Tribune is offering this article free to all readers because it includes information important to public safety and health in our community.

Document: Fulton 58 Distance Learning Procedures

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The Fulton Public School District will expect students in grades 3-12 to wear masks this fall whenever social distancing cannot be maintained.

For younger students, a face covering is strongly encouraged.

"Please know the decision to require face coverings was not made lightly," a Thursday email to staff said. "Given the current situation in Callaway County, FPS feels this change will give us the best chance to be in school, in person."

This is a change from the district's original plan, which initially only encouraged mask use. The district will provide each student with cloth masks and will have disposable masks available as well. The district plans to share more specific details related to masks today.

These changes came after a meeting of the Board of Education on Wednesday.

In a recent survey, many staff indicated they would prefer a mask requirement for students, especially for the upper grade levels.

Board members expressed their support for listening to this staff feedback and their trust in administration.

Currently, the district plans to return to in-person schooling this month, with some students opting to learn virtually through an online provider.

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But in the event the pandemic worsens or an outbreak occurs at the schools, the district has a plan to transition smoothly to learning from home.

As of Wednesday, 275 students have signed up for virtual learning — just over 11 percent of the Fulton Public Schools student population. Those students will spend the semester learning through Launch, an online learning platform that uses Missouri teachers.

The district has reopened sign ups for virtual education. To sign up, visit docs.google.com/forms/d/1LSV2lPlrQ0-0aFNQPAfU-ClH4H7XC7U5syiThKwVdvM/edit.

"We've chosen to go with the tools that we have because we feel like it's going to give the best opportunity for our kids," Superintendent Ty Crain said. "It's expensive. It's going to cost, you know, about half a million dollars a semester where we're at right now, but it's what's best for our kids."

Crain said the district will look at developing tools within the district that could be used instead for the spring semester.

"One of the things that the virtual enrollment has provided is a lot lower numbers in our classrooms," Crain said.

Those lower numbers will help the schools better space the students who are returning in person.

Distance learning

In the event in-person learning is deemed no longer safe, the district has a plan.

"This summer a team gathered to develop a distance learning plan in case of another school shutdown — this team was phenomenal," Director of Community Relations Karen Snethen said.

Snethen praised the work of Fulton High School teacher Stacy Bonderer, Fulton Middle School teacher Jeremiah Hoskins and Assistant Superintendent Chris Hubbuch, as well as the whole task force.

The task force had three goals: maintaining the continuity of instruction from seated to remote learning, minimizing the detrimental impact of school closure, and developing professional development and guidance for staff.

"It's not a normal on-boarding experience, I must confess," Hubbuch joked. "But it was such a pleasure to work with so many dedicated and talented team members and educators leaders during my first few days and weeks here in the district."

The distance learning plan is based on feedback from families and staff.

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"As we looked at data, we wanted to make sure that although all stakeholders weren't in the room, we were listening to what our families were saying in surveys that were sent to them and that we were listening to our staff," Fulton Middle School Principal Beth Houf said.

To help ensure staff are prepared for a school year of blended learning, teachers have access to a four-hour course explaining how to effectively plan for blended and online learning, as well as tutorials on technology tools and a lesson planning guide.

"The instructional process will look completely different from what was implemented in the spring in an emergency context," Hubbuch said.

The district will distribute Chromebooks to students, as well as WiFi hotspots for families that need internet access at home.

Teachers will spend four hours daily during regular school hours. They will also be available for students and parents during the late afternoon and evening hours.

Across the district, students and teachers will interact through Google Classroom and Google Meet.

"We thought it was important to use Google Classroom because it offers us the same format no matter the age of our kiddo, but it allows us to vary the content so that it's appropriate for that child's learning," Stacy Bonderer said.

Pre-K through fifth-grade students can expect to meet twice daily over Google Meet for a morning check-in and an afternoon read-aloud.

Older students in sixth through 12th grades will meet remotely two to three times a week.

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For assignments, students should receive grades or feedback within 72 hours of submission.

Special-education staff will help meet students' needs using a variety of strategies and online platforms and will collaborate with families to determine what services are needed during distance learning.

"Last year when we shut down, our services for special education was very minimal," Director of Special Services Karrie Millard said. "This time if we shut down, we will be doing things a lot differently."

For students who chose virtual learning, the district will still provide special education services.

"They're going to get their education through Launch, but we will also be providing special education services with them as well," Millard said. "The services will be reduced, they'll be pretty minimal, but we will still be servicing those kids."

The district has put together detailed schedules for students at all levels. According to the plan, students should strive to establish daily routines, communicate frequently and identify a space in their home where they can work successfully.

"Don't be afraid to tell others when you're frustrated or upset, but know that you can't simply give up either," reads a section of the plan about supporting learning. "We are all better when we support one another."

For parents, the plan compiles resources such as explanations on how to use the Remind app and training videos on the Google Suite for Education.

In-person learning

Crain said Fulton is working with other superintendents and athletic directors on plans for athletic events.

"We're going to try to do those as safely as possible," Crain said. "That's trying to determine, at what point might there have to be cancellations? Where would we travel? Where would we not travel? Another issue is spectators."

Another concern is substitutes.

"One thing we may look at, if we have the opportunity, is I might bring you some permanent subs if we can get there, just to make sure that we have people in our building to keep them going," Crain told the board.

Crain informed the board about a change to the district's Return to Learn plan. The district has ordered dividers for desks and tables to allow students to better distance themselves.

The district is also working on flow charts to help with decision-making.

'The question is how do we notify, be transparent with our information of what's going on?" Crain said.

The district will begin reporting numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in the district online at fulton58.org/vnews/display.v/SEC/Return%20to%20Learn%7CFPS%20COVID-19%20Cases.

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